If Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump can tweet a picture of himself eating a taco bowl while declaring "I love Hispanics," the national discussion around race has gotten soggier than the bottom of his bowl. Thankfully, Andrew "Fig" Figueroa is coming to UC Irvine this week to elevate the debate with Mixed-Race Mixtape, a much needed dose of hip-hop theater. Born to a Mexican dad and a white mom, Fig explores the intricacies of his own identity through song and stage.
"It’s funny because I was always aware that I had one parents who was Mexican and one that was white European, but I never dealt with the stress and confusion that I do now as an adult," says Fig, who grew up in Irvine. "My white mother not only spoke perfect Spanish, but also had lived in Mexico for 15 years. So, we took pride in being a Mexican household." It wasn't until he moved out of Irvine that he realized all the issues he had that would later inform Mix-Raced Mixtape.
The one-night only production is a blend itself, incorporating hip-hop music, theater and spoken word elements together. The end result takes the audience through his experience of growing up as "ambiguously brown" as, say, Saved By the Bell's A.C. Slater. Whether talking about encounters with police, family or school teachers, Fig's bridging of both worlds becomes a balancing act. The feat is often wrought with subtle and not-so-subtle jabs along the fault lines of race and class.
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Fig's five song EP by the same name delves into the discussion musically. Backed by jazzy hip-hop beats, his dynamic flow lightheartedly languishes on languages with "Tongue Troubles." The Spanglish track cleverly details his struggles in speaking the habla. "Entiendo, pero no se como... / Looking like the only brown kid in the whole globe / Speaking like a white boy / You alright boy? / Last name match with your face type boy."
Putting it all together, Mixed-Race Mixtape emerged out of Fig's senior thesis at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. "Hip-Hop was founded as a counter narrative, one that gave voice to the neglected and silenced and allowed them to share their stories," Fig says. "Hip-Hop theater is just another one of those forms." He continues to refine his product with every performance. The aim is to get at questions like, "How can you navigate the world as a person of color and feel proud, authentic and safe? Stick around after the final bow because the discussion continues with a dialogue with the audience.
"The conversation is incredible! People always have a lot of questions about our process, who we made the show for and what our overall goal with Mixed-Race Mixtape is," Fig says. "Younger audiences are very gracious and often ask what they can do to continue these conversations outside of the performance space and create work engaging in similar topics."
Mixed-Race Mixtape at the Crystal Cove Auditorium in the Student Center, 311 W Peltason Dr., Irvine, Thurs., 7:00 p.m. Free. All ages.